Tag Archives: Yeshiva University

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

In Memory of the Man Who Helped A Million People a Year

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

Yechiel Eckstein (1951-2019) was born in Massachusetts and raised in Canada, where his father served as a rabbi in Ottawa. Eckstein studied at Yeshiva University, starting with its high school program, and all the way through to earning his Master’s and his rabbinic ordination. He also held a Ph.D from Columbia University. After several years working with the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Eckstein founded the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1983. The main aim of this organization was to raise funds to support impoverished Jews all over the world, especially in Israel and the Soviet Union. The organization also promoted and funded aliyah, took care of Holocaust survivors, and supported the IDF’s lone soldiers. Originally, nearly all of his donors were Jewish. However, within a decade he had raised a huge amount of support from American Christians. The organization, now known as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) would go on to raise over $1.6 billion to help needy Jews in 58 countries. By 2003, it was the second largest charity operating in Israel, and some estimate it is the largest humanitarian organization in Israel today. In 2010, Eckstein was ranked among the Top 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America, and a few years later among the Top 50 Most Influential Jews in the world. IFCJ currently provides aid to over one million people each year, and has a base of 175 million donors. Rabbi Eckstein was known to be at the front lines of the work himself. He was an avid musician, and would often take his guitar with him on trips to play for kids and the elderly in camps and nursing homes. (In fact, he was once part of a Jewish band, and even recorded four albums of Hasidic music.) Eckstein was beloved by all those whom he met and assisted. It wasn’t only Jews who benefited from his work. Eckstein and the IFCJ also helped Arab Christians fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq, and supported Israel’s Christian minorities. He traveled to China to fight for the release of imprisoned pastors. He has been credited with being a major force in improving Jewish-Christian relations. He is also the author of eleven books, and his radio program had over 23 million listeners globally. Sadly, Rabbi Eckstein unexpectedly passed away last week from a heart attack. Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who worked closely with Eckstein, said of him that “He really cared for every single Jew. He had a special warmth, a warm heart, a special ability to feel someone else’s plight… We could have a discussion about a particular story, and he would break down crying. He wasn’t faking; that was the secret to his success—he really cared.”

Words of the Week

Where there is a soul, there cannot be a clock.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzkthe Kotzker Rebbe

Jew of the Week: Rebbetzin Henny Machlis

Rebbetzin Henny Machlis (Photo Credit: Joan Roth)

Rebbetzin Henny Machlis (Photo Credit: Joan Roth)

Henny Machlis (1957-2015) was born and raised in Brooklyn, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. She studied genetics, dietetics, and education at both Brooklyn College and Yeshiva University. Shortly after marrying Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, the two opened up their home to host people for Sabbath meals. Their inspiring words of wisdom and delicious cooking brought more and more guests. Soon, the Machlis family was hosting between 200 and 300 guests for Shabbat meals each week! Among their guests were students, immigrants, and tourists, widows and orphans, the impoverished, homeless, and mentally ill. Many of these slept over for days or weeks, on their couches, tables, and even in their van. Rebbetzin Machlis would cook for 8 hours straight to prepare for each Shabbat, with the help of her 13 kids. Cleaning up would often take until Tuesday. Each Shabbat cost the family $2500, some of which was covered by donations, but most came from their own modest funds, together with many loans, and even the sale of their personal belongings. Amazingly, the family only took off one week a year, during the holiday of Passover. Their door was never locked, and people regularly came in for a safe place to stay. At the same time, the Rebbetzin taught a regular women’s class on Jewish philosophy, while mentoring and advising countless others. Despite her hard work, Machlis was famous for always being cheerful, calm, warm, and modest. Over the past 36 years, her family has hosted over 400,000 people. Sadly, Rebbetzin Machlis passed away last month after a battle with cancer. Many visited her in the hospital, and even there, the Rebbetzin continued her kindness, giving up her own hospital bed to give homeless people a place to rest. At her funeral, a stranger pushed aside her son to draw nearer, saying “I have to get closer. She’s my mother.” Indeed, many consider Henny Machlis their spiritual mother. One person said of her: “When I was with her, I felt embraced by God.” Click here to read more about Henny Machlis’s story.

Words of the Week

Wisdom from Rebbetzin Machlis:

“All giving is a little bit of imitating God. Giving builds one’s character, and makes one more God-like.”

“Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that when you cook, the energy that you cook with goes into the food. So if you cook with a lot of anger, you can give people food poisoning. But if you cook with joy, you can give them good health.”

“We are living in the midst of a spiritual holocaust. Most Jews today have no idea of the beauty and depth of Judaism. How can we not do everything in our power, including going into debt, to reach out to our fellow Jews?”